Studios May Try but Certain Release Schedule Rules Can’t Be Broken
The calendar of upcoming studio releases changes nearly every day. This by itself is not unusual. Plans evolve constantly, dates years in advance sometimes are claimed, shifts are made in reaction to even normal events.
What of course has become the new normal is ongoing theater closures and multiple date changes for many films. Industry sources tell IndieWire they remain dubious that the latest August dates for “Tenet” (Warner Bros./August 12) and “Mulan” (Disney/August 21) will actually happen. In the meantime, most of the high-expectation titles initially set for this year have planted their flags on various dates after them and through the rest of this year and next.
The result makes more sense than you might think. First, there is some sense that what was originally expected first will still be released first (with major exceptions like “F9″/Universal, which was moved nearly a year to next April before nearly all titles were reset).
Yet even with the understanding that the calendar could be as tentative as plans for leading film festivals and awards shows, there are still a number of oddities that otherwise would make studio CEOs question the sanity of their distribution and marketing teams. But in the absence of having any grosses to talk about at the moment, let’s have some fun with what is out there.
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“Tenet” and “Mulan” Are Placed in No-Man’s Land
Hollywood’s summer doesn’t conform to the calendar’s. In terms of the season’s top release dates, it now means last weekend in April (which Marvel now owns) through the end of July.
The two hoped-for huge titles now set in mid-August might have vied for the #1 for the full year had they opened as initially planned. But a look at recent years show that no titles released this late have reached the annual top 15, some years not top 30.
Why the reluctance, normally? Many schools usually reopen during August, while for others it’s the last chance for vacation travel. And otherwise, good outdoor summer days wane.
The second push back of these films’ from mid-July thus might be one their studios fight hard to keep. The key reason of course is getting theaters back into business. But with the even less desirable September ahead, it might this one time be better than the alternatives.
“A Quiet Place Part II”
Normal Space Between Similar Titles Ignored
One of the basics in date setting is to stay away from similar films. The horror genre is a key case where a month or more since the last one always helps a new release.
But what do we see in the first two weekends of September? Three, including two major ones. Paramount has “A Quiet Place Part II” for Labor Day, with Warner Bros.’ “The Conjuring 3” the week after. (September 4 also has Sony’s $60-million budget action fantasy “Monster Hunter,” an unprecedented event for the normally avoided-like-the-plague holiday.)
If this works, it would rewrite assumptions.
“Top Gun: Maverick” at Christmas
The ageless Tom Cruise (only three years younger than John Wayne when he made “True Grit”) now mostly sticks to high-budget, high-tech action films delivering a lot of bang for the buck. And throughout his career, these titles have mostly gone in the summer.
That’s where it was initially set (June 26). Though a sequel to a 34 year old film, Paramount felt the $150 million+ budget was justified, with a key prime summer date ideal.
Christmas can be lucrative for a wide range of titles. But family oriented ones, particularly outside of the established franchises, do best. Two “Jumanji” films and “The Greatest Showman,” along with several “Star Wars” titles and “Aquaman” typify Christmas fare.
“Top Gun” with a largely male/military appeal is a real outlier here. Even Clint Eastwood’s massive “American Sniper” only platformed at Christmas before its January wide release.
No reason to assume it won’t work. But also it’s the kind of decision that would not have happened without needed improvisational motivation.
“Wonder Woman 1984” and “Black Widow” Both Are Now on Secondary Dates
D.C. Comics and Patty Jenkins’ sequel to their 2017 smash was set to go June 5. It’s now planned for October 2. Yes in recent years “Venom” and “Joker” thrived then. But the date wasn’t appealing enough for Warner Bros. to select it. (As big as it was, “Joker” had a somewhat different expected appeal than the more mainstream “Wonder Woman 1984”).
Disney had given “Black Widow” its “A-date”: May 1. Now it is on November 6. Yes, “Thor: Ragnarok” went the same time in 2017. But it was the third biggest Marvel release its year, not the prime one. (It would have been avoided for an esoteric reason in the past — it comes right after Election Day, and studios avoid this because it is usually both difficult and more expensive to buy TV time around voting, since by law candidates get priority in access to advertising slots).
The slots chosen for these two widely anticipated titles are hardly minor. But they aren’t the best possible had closings not occurred.
These are some but not the only examples of unusual dates. They are (again assuming they happen) creatures of necessity. And we don’t know what larger factors — lack of competition, hoped-for explosion of pent-up interest, a decline in threat from the virus) might work to their favor. But add all this to the other risks distributors are taking to stick to theatrical release.
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